IQ News: Insider – Street Performer

Neil Budde, one of the publishing industry’s earlier Internet proponents, realized years ago how to create an online success story. Perhaps just as important, he figured out what not to do. As editor of the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, the 41-year-old Buddehas translated Dow Jones’ rock-solid print franchise into one of the Web’s most promising pay services-one that he says will soon be profitable. The Interactive Edition has now registered some 175,000 paid subscribers, about one-third of whom are paying the $29 fee for a supplementary subscription to the print newspaper. Two-thirds are buying just the online edition at $49. “From the beginning, we wanted to create something people would pay for,” Budde says. “It’s always been part of our vision. We set out to create an independent product that would stand on its own.”
But the story of the Journal’s online edition could have had a very different ending. Back in 1993, when Budde moved over to the WSJIE from Dow Jones News/Retrieval, he thought he’d be building proprietary software. America Online’s method of delivering its disks to millions seemed to be the model of distributing online information. The Interactive Edition was heading in that direction.
Just learning the technical side of the business, Budde began to have other ideas. He taught himself computer programming and learned HTML on his laptop while sitting at Boston’s Logan Airport. When Dow Jones programmers working on the software asked for Budde’s prototype, he wasn’t exactly hailed as a technological savant. “They laughed at me,” Budde says.
Still, Budde had some important insights. Investigating the universe of online delivery methods, he spoke with MSN and Ziff-Davis. Ziff had developed a technology called the Interchange Online Network that The Washington Post and several other papers had used to develop proprietary, subscriber-based sites. Not long after, AT&T bought the platform from Ziff and ended up folding it. By not rushing into any programming alliances, Budde was already ahead of those papers that bought into a closed architecture.
Finally, after spending a year developing their own software to deliver the WSJIE, Budde’s team took a deep breath, threw the software away and switched to the Internet. The first version of the Netscape browser had been released. “It did less than we wanted, but you could read the tea leaves and say, ‘There will be people developing software to do what we want,'” Budde says. “So why do we have to develop software?”